Program offers undergrads research experience in atmospheric sciences

Release Date: 
Monday, August 9, 2010

CONTACT: Brian Keenan, Geophysical Institute PR Assistant: 907-474-5229 or via e-mail at       

Fairbanks, Alaska— A National Science Foundation grant is providing six undergraduates the ability to gain valuable experience conducting their own atmospheric science research here in Alaska. The program puts students into the field, working closely with faculty from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

This opportunity almost didn’t happen, though.

Gerhard Kramm, principal investigator for the Research Experience for Undergraduates in Atmospheric Sciences program, submitted a proposal to fund the endeavor back in 2009. Kramm, a research associate professor at the GI, didn’t find out that his proposal to NSF had been recommended for funding until April 2010. With only a recommendation in hand and no funding, Kramm and his colleagues within the GI’s Atmospheric Sciences Group had to make a decision. Should they move forward, planning for the program to occur in summer 2010, or should they wait until the funding arrives?

With the support of GI Director Roger Smith, the scientists chose to proceed and plan for an REU in Atmospheric Sciences program for this summer. A call was sent for applications, candidates were selected and the logistics for seminars and travel were  arranged. The scientists’ efforts and forward thinking were rewarded two months later when funding for the program finally came through.

“The director supported us in a strong manner,” Kramm said. “Without his support we would have had a one-year delay.”

The award from NSF provides funding for the REU program to occur every summer until 2012.

Kramm serves as a mentor to the students, as do Professor and Academic Department Chair Nicole Mölders and Associate Professor Javier Fochesatto. The six students are divided into two groups of three, with each group focusing on a different research theme. Fochesatto serves as advisor to one group, emphasizing fieldwork, and Kramm and Mölders emphasize the theoretical and mathematical aspects of research.

Mölders’ and Kramm’s group is charged with studying strongly stable conditions over Interior Alaska during wintertime. The work studies inversion effects and PM2.5, fine particulate matter that plagues the Interior, causing adverse health effects and reduced visibility.

This summer, participants have conducted fieldwork with Fochesatto at Toolik Lake Field Station, north of Fairbanks. There, students helped set up an array of instrumentation — sonic anemometers, scintillometers, SODAR and LIDAR — to study heat flux and the development of transitions in the boundary layer, the lowest layer of the atmosphere.

Four of the students are from out of state, drawn from atmospheric science and meteorology programs from as far way as Penn State University, and two students attend UAF.

The ten-week program began in June and runs through August.


Gerhard Kramm, principal investigator and research associate professor: 907-474-5992 or via e-mail at

Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer, at 907-474-7902 or via e-mail at


High resolution images available for download at